UT hosts Belmont tonight

They've lost three games in a row heading into tonight's 7:30 tipoff against Belmont but the Tennessee Vols insist they haven't lost their confidence.

"I wouldn't say it's down," freshman forward Tobias Harris said. "We're disappointed in our play right now but we'll pick it up against Belmont."

Junior wing Cameron Tatum concedes that confidence is crucial, especially when a team has been struggling.

"Confidence is very important," he said. "If you don't have confidence you're not going to execute your plays on the offensive end.... Confidence, that's what basketball is all about. We've got to find our swagger."

Although the recent setbacks have shaken UT's confidence, Tatum says they haven't destroyed it.

"I don't really know that we've lost a lot of confidence," he said. "We're just not executing at all. That comes from a lack of focus and not being ready to play every possession."

The statistics support him. During the seven-game winning streak that opened the season Tennessee shot 46.6 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from 3. During their three-game losing streak the Vols shot just 39.3 from the field and 20.0 percent from 3.

"I wouldn't say we're out of sync," Harris said. "We're just making plays too fast."

Tennessee isn't executing on defense lately, either. During the seven-game winning streak the Vols limited foes to 36.8 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from 3. During the three-game losing streak they allowed 43.8 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from 3.

Ten games into the season the Vols apparently are still trying to blend into a cohesive offensive and defensive unit.

"I think it's just us learning our personnel even more," Harris said. "That's going to come. We just have to continue to play team ball. When we play team ball we win games. When we beat Villanova and Pittsburgh we played team ball."

In five-plus seasons under Bruce Pearl Tennessee has never lost four games in a row. His Vols lost three in a row just once previously - suffering consecutive road setbacks against Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Auburn in January of 2007. Naturally, UT's players are not happy campers right now.

"I'm frustrated. Very frustrated," Tatum said. "I can't remember the last time I lost three games in a row - probably my freshman year in high school. I'm very, very disappointed.... Obviously, we're in a tough state right now."

Indeed. And Belmont is not the team you want to face when you're struggling. The Bruins are 0-3 in the all-time series with Tennessee but all three games were played at Thompson-Boling Arena and the average victory margin was a scant 6.6 points.

Rick Byrd's team stands 9-2 this season, with the losses coming by identical 85-76 scores at Tennessee on Nov. 16 and at Vanderbilt on Dec. 4. Belmont trailed the Vols by just one point (77-76) in the earlier meeting only to see Tennessee nail 8 of 8 free throws in the final 34 seconds to pull away.

Tonight's game projects to be another nail-biter.

"We've just got to win that game," Harris said. "That's a big game for us. We need to win big and show people how we play Tennessee basketball."

NOTES: Belmont is expected to start 6-9 Mick Hedgepeth (11.4 points per game), 6-6 Brandon Baker (4.5), 6-6 Jon House (6.4), 6-3 Ian Clark (12.5) and 5-11 Drew Hanlon (5.7).... Hedgepeth leads the Bruins in rebounding at 5.9 per game and Hanlon leads in assists at 5.3 per game.... Belmont reserve forward Blake Jenkins is the son of former Vol wing Fred Jenkins (1984-87).... Tennessee outrebounded Belmont 40-24 in the earlier meeting.... The Bruins shoot a sizzling 38.5 percent from 3 as a team. By comparison, Tennessee shoots just 30.6 from behind the arc.... Tonight's game will be televised by SportSouth.

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